The take on the Tigers heading into the season was that we were going to have a mighty fine lineup, but the pitching would be the question mark. Now, 57 games into the season, the stats show just the opposite. The Tigers are 9th in the AL in team OPS, and that’s about 50 points higher than the worst team (A’s) and 100 points worse than the best team (Orioles). Sticking with OPS to measure pitching prowess (that is, opponents’ OPS), the team-wide opponents’ OPS is 5th best in the league, which is 55 points off the best (Indians?) and 97 points better than the worst (D-Rays). So adding a proven hitter like Polanco to an already potent lineup (well, it will be “already potent” once we get Magglio Ordonez back to hitting like his old self) makes complete sense to compete this year.
But here’s the question: Can we compete this year?
I, for one, don’t think it’s impossible. Today’s Danny Knobler column got me to thinking about this. Specifically the part where he talks about the ’87 Tigers, who started at 30-27, but put together a stretch of 13 out of 15 wins later in the season. That column brings me to a point of agreement that my boss and I share about baseball seasons.
We all know the old saw about baseball: Every team wins 50 games (well, most teams, anyways… Teams like the ’62 Mets and the ’03 Tigers being exceptions to the rule), every team loses 50 games (again, minor exceptions such as the ’98 Yankees or ’01 Mariners), it’s what you do with the rest of the games that makes the difference. Of course, even a Phillies phan like my boss had heard of the fantastic 35-5 start that the ’84 Tigers had. And, in fact, the ’93 Phillies roared out to a 17-5 start by the end of April. After losing on May 1, they then pulled off a stretch of winning 6 out of their next 7, leaving their early record at 23-7. That’s no 35-5, but if you subtract those numbers from their final record, you notice they went 74-58 for the remainder of the season. Even our beloved ’84 Tigers went 69-53 after the 35-5 start. So, the pet theory that my boss and I have is this: Any team can get on a stretch of about 40-50 games when they are just lights-out, and that is good enough to make the playoffs, assuming they can go just a touch above .500 for the remainder of the schedule. Looking at the month-by-month totals for those two teams confirms it: The ’84 Tigers were an uninspiring 16-12 in July, and an even worse 16-15 in August. The ’93 Phillies went 14-14 in July, and 15-15 in September (plus three games of the regular season in October). The ’05 Tigers? 11-11 in April, and 12-15 in May, plus 4-4 so far in June. Now, granted, the ’05 Tigers need to step it up, and step it up now, to get somewhere, but with the upgrades at 1st base, 2nd base, and the decision to forego a 5th starter for a stretch (and consider talent elsewhere, whether that be Toledo or possibly a trade, for the 5th starter once one is again needed)… Plus Magglio Ordonez’s return looking to be on the short side of the originally estimated 8-12 weeks… You can envision a scenario where they will rip off something like a 19-7 July (similar to the ’84 team’s 19-7 record in May) or an 18-10 August (similar to the ’93 Phillies’ 18-10 record in June). If they did both of those on top of a June that leaves them at dead-even .500 (let’s say 14-11)… They’d be sitting at 74-54 with 34 games remaining. Even just an even .500 in those remaining games gets you to 91 wins, which should make them right there in the playoff hunt.
See? That’s not so hard. On top of which, it’s much better than sounding the warning that we’re 7.5 games back in the wild card (and would have to leapfrog 6 other teams) and 12 games back in the division.